Album Review: We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
A Tribe Called Quest is one of the most revered groups in hip hop. The group comprised of four members: rappers Phife Dawg and Jarobi White, rapper/producer Q-Tip, and co-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammed. They were pioneers of jazz rap and boom bap, responsible for classic albums like The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Countless hip hop legends have cited the Tribe as one of their main inspirations, such as Kanye West, OutKast, or The Roots.
Despite the brilliant music they produced, the Tribe were not always on good terms. Following their fifth album in 1998, The Love Movement, tensions between Phife Dawg and Q-Tip reached their apex, and the group broke up. They occasionally reunited for live performances, but it was not until after a performance for The Tonight Show in 2015 that the group felt confident they could create one last album. Q-Tip said about that night, "I knew if we were connecting with that kind of energy in a performance, it would be easy to go back to the studio." Over the next year, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Jarobi White worked together in secrecy to create their sixth album as A Tribe Called Quest. Ali Shaheed Muhammed was busy with other projects at the time, thus Q-Tip was responsible for all production on We got it from Here.
Context is important for this album for a number of reasons. For one, comeback albums are often hit-or-miss, so the incredible quality of We got it from Here is made all the more impressive considering it came after an 18 year hiatus for the group.
Secondly, and more importantly, during the making of the album, Phife Dawg passed away due to complications from diabetes. One would expect this tragedy to lead to the project being scrapped, but Q-Tip and Jarobi White finished the album in Phife Dawg's memory, with the final product being We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service. It's of a celebration of hip hop culture, a political statement, and a tribute to their fallen band member.
The opening track, 'The Space Program', is one of the finest opening songs I've ever heard. The punchy production is so simple yet so engaging, and the smooth and effortless flows from Q-Tip and Jarobi are some of the best verses of their careers. The song reaches its climax with an uplifting chorus from Phife Dawg, chanting about togetherness and overcoming the racial issues described by Q-Tip and Jarobi earlier on the song. It's a beautiful song to start the album, giving every member their chance to shine.
This same quality carries on throughout the entire album. Q-Tip's production is as incredible as ever, utilising the same boom bap influences and jazz samples he used in the 90s. From the explosive production on 'Dis Generation', the jazzy 'Ego', or the genius 'Mobius' where the minimalist production loops back round at the end like a Mobius Strip, every production choice is precise, clean, and engaging.
There is not a subpar beat on this album, nor an underwhelming performance. Being an album from hip hop veterans in the new era, A Tribe Called Quest drew in collaborators both old and new. Other hip hop legends such as Busta Rhymes, Kanye West, OutKast's Andre 3000 and Black Star's Talib Kweli make appearances, all having great chemistry with the other group members. Newer faces also have stellar features, such as Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak. Every contribution feels necessary, and adds a layer of depth to the album, as though the entire record is a passing of the torch from the old generation to the new.
Many fans of classic hip hop will argue that no Tribe album comes close to the excellence of The Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders, but in my opinion, We got it from Here is of the same quality, if not more emotionally resonant. Throughout the album there are various allusions to or tributes to Phife Dawg, such as the song 'Lost Somebody', or Q-Tip's verse on 'Black Spasmodic' in which he raps as though Phife Dawg's spirit has possessed him to tell him everything will be alright. The closer, 'The Donald', is another emotional tribute to Phife, putting aside political commentary to celebrate the life of a hip hop legend.
Given the circumstances for this album - a comeback decades later, with one band member unavailable and another having passed away midway through the album's creation - it should have been a disaster. Miraculously, We got it from Here ended up a modern masterpiece. Every beat feels like a modernised twist on classic jazz rap, keeping the soul of what made A Tribe Called Quest so special without feeling outdated in the modern era. Every contribution to this album feels justified and adds to the experience, with every featured artist not only being a pleasant surprise on first listen but also adding to the themes of racism, a love for music, and love for Phife Dawg. The themes of grief and politics never get repetitive as each track tackles its own issues, with 'The Killing Season' being a critique of war, and 'Melatonin' being a commentary on relying on medications to be happy. The album covers a diverse range of topics, but with its upbeat jazz rap sound and consistently great performances from all rappers involved, it comes together as a cohesive whole.
With their final album, A Tribe Called Quest managed to turn an unexpected tragedy into a beautiful work of art, and for that, it deserves the title of one of the best comebacks in music, and one of the best albums ever made. Rest in peace, Phife Dawg.
Fav Tracks: The Space Program, Melatonin, Dis Generation, Conrad Tokyo